Conant field hockey edges Kearsarge in opening round before losing to Gilford

Conant senior Megan Newton gets off a shot against Kearsarge during the NHIAA Division III field hockey tournament first-round game in Jaffrey on Oct. 18.

Conant senior Megan Newton gets off a shot against Kearsarge during the NHIAA Division III field hockey tournament first-round game in Jaffrey on Oct. 18. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

Conant freshman Mia Lambert squares off against a Kearsarge opponent.

Conant freshman Mia Lambert squares off against a Kearsarge opponent. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

Conant senior captain Graecen Kirby moves the ball upfield against Kearsarge.

Conant senior captain Graecen Kirby moves the ball upfield against Kearsarge. PHOTO BY BEN CONANT/BEN CONANT PHOTOGRAPHY

By BEN CONANT

For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 10-23-2023 12:38 PM

Still riding their homecoming high, the Conant field hockey team kept their momentum going Wednesday afternoon with an NHIAA Division III tournament first-round win over visiting Kearsarge. The Orioles started their home slate back in September with a 1-0 win over those same Cougars, scoring early and holding the slim lead the rest of the way, and on Wednesday, they did the exact same thing in their final home game – only this time, it was with much higher stakes.

“We just wanted to get ahead quick,” said senior captain Graecen Kirby after the game, “and we did, but having just a 1-0 lead throughout the whole game was definitely nerve-racking.”

Kirby helped get Conant on the board in the first five minutes of the game when she slammed one of her trademark hard hits from outside the 25 and into the box, where sophomore forward Sophia Spingola was camped out, ready for a one-time touch. Spingola, a natural ice hockey player, has been working on adapting that skillset to serve her on the field, and by keeping her stick down for a simple deflection rather than slapping at the ball for a redirect, she was able to send it on its way home for the game’s only goal.

“Sophia had a fantastic game,” said Conant’s first-year head coach, Susan Graage.

The Orioles had a few more opportunities throughout the game, as senior forwards Ella Weinhold and Megan Newton moved the ball well in the offensive zone and sophomore Violet Bennett was strong in the midfield. Another apparent goal off the stick of senior captain Maddie Bergeron was waved off, and Kearsarge was able to defend each and every corner Conant earned.

“The other game that we had against [Kearsarge], was very similar,” Graage said. “One-nothing, but it easily could have been like three or four to nothing. We had so many chances. [Kearsarge] defended well on their corners.”

Conant’s defensive back line, anchored by seniors Haley Dubois and Katy Weidner, held on strong, and what few chances they allowed were promptly turned back by senior keeper Abby Quill.

“[Quill] is literally the backbone of our team,” Kirby said. “She works so hard – she actually got her 100th save this game. We just appreciate Abby more than she’ll ever know. Her offseason work is paying off incredibly.”

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While this was the playoff opener for the No. 8 Orioles (9-6), it was arguably their second-biggest game of the week, as Conant hosted local rival Mascenic for homecoming Oct. 14 and beat the Vikings to eliminate them from the final postseason berth, returning the favor from last fall, when Mascenic knocked Conant out of the tournament.

“Whatever the seedings look like,” Kirby said, “whether we’re up top and they’re down bottom or vice versa, they’re always good in a rivalry game. So coming off of the win against Mascenic and knocking them out of the playoffs after what they did to us last year was amazing.”

After beating Kearsarge, Conant had won seven of their past nine games and looked to be peaking just at the right time. However, the true test came Saturday, when the Orioles traveled to face No. 1 Gilford in the quarterfinal round. The defending champions won 13 straight after losing their season-opening title game rematch to Bishop Brady, and made Conant their 14th straight victim with a 3-2 win. Conant had lost to Gilford 4-0 in their regular-season meeting in September.